Please explain the difference between these words. When to use which?

to kill/killing
to murder/murder
to slaughter/slaughter
to slay/slaying

closed as too broad by ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq, Em1, jimsug, Kinzle B, Kaz Jul 26 '14 at 4:35

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  • 1
    All of them are usable, depending on the context. Please give some context. – ʇolɐǝz ǝɥʇ qoq Jul 25 '14 at 18:24
  • I want to understand the context in which I should use one over the others. That is the point of my question. – xaxa Jul 25 '14 at 18:28

to kill/killing

Most basic/versatile expression.

to murder/murder

Implies the voluntary killing of a sentient being. In US law, there is a distinction between "murder" (intentionally killing someone) vs. "manslaughter" (unintentionally killing a person); murder is considered even worse.

Depending on the context, "murder" may have a sense of cruelty.

to slaughter/slaughter

Literally to kill an animal prior to butchery. When used in other contexts it has an overtone of being very messy or cruel, because of the association with killing a defenseless animal and then dismembering it. Thus, it has the implication of completeness or thoroughness; an army that was slaughtered was killed brutally; a sports team that was "slaughtered" was beaten by a painfully large margin.

to slay/slaying

Somewhat archaic. Focuses on the act more than the results; may be considered a "deed" or significant action. May also imply a sense of struggle. "He slew the wolf" sounds like he fought with it on equal terms (or terms that were not favorable to him), and accomplished something by killing it; "he murdered the wolf" focuses on having killed a living being, and has a pronounced tone of disapproval.


Literally killing a person. More of a legal term.


Killing of a large number of people (or "multiple people" at least--the Boston Massacre actually only resulted in the deaths of five people after all). Usually there is a tone of disapproval, though in metaphoric usage it's similar to "slaughter" above ("We massacred them" in the context of a sporting event means our team won by a large margin.)


These terms vary mostly in number and moral connotation:

Kill: a generic term for ending something's life. Unique in that it does not have a strong moral connotation.

Murder: to criminally and intentionally kill an individual. Has a strongly negative moral connotation. A accidental killing of an individual would be termed 'manslaughter.'

Slaughter: to kill many or brutally. Originally used exclusively to refer to the killing of animals, if applied to humans it communicates a killing, "as if they were animals." Can have a neutral or negative moral connotation:

  • "I slaughtered my cow yesterday" - neutral
  • "It was a slaughter of innocents" - negative

Slay: an older, less frequently used equivalent of kill. Frequently used in fantasy contexts.

Homicide: a more precise term for a human killing another human. Typically refers to the crime of murder.

Massacre: similar to slaughter: a brutal killing of many. Almost always used refers to killing of people, and almost always has a strong negative connotation.

  • America (and many other English-speaking countries) have the legal concept of "killing in self-defense". This concept includes killing in defense of others. In some jurisdictions, it even applies to the defense of property. "Killing in self-defense" is neither murder nor homicide. Also, there is the concept of "justifiable homicide", which is a legal homicide. – Jasper Aug 5 '14 at 22:54

To a great extent, the rest of these words are synonyms or clarifications of "to kill" or of one another.

  • To kill: cause to die
  • Murder: kill with intent or forethought; not accidental
  • Slaughter: kill with relish or abandon, or large number
  • Slay: another form of slaughter?
  • Homicide: noun form; murder
  • Massacre: noun or verb form; slaughter

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